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Iowa Farmers Union takes aim at climate change

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
An aerial view from a drone shows a combine being used to harvest the soybeans in a field at the Bardole & Son’s Ltd farm on Oct. 14, 2019, in Rippey.

The Iowa Farmers Union has launched a farm by farm attack on climate change, hoping to persuade its members to plant crops that can help sweep heat-trapping carbon from the air.

IFU President Aaron Heley Lehman said the federal government’s failure to set up a system that would allow farmers to sell pollution-fighting credits to large companies and others that emit greenhouse gases have forced the group to turn to its independent farmer-members to see if they can fight the problem at home.

“Farmer policy has been to recognize climate change and to look for farmer solutions,” Lehman said.

Many consider climate change a coastal problem centered on rising sea levels. But research at Iowa State University and elsewhere has shown that farmers will face more problems with flood, drought and severe weather; big rains that result in surface run-off without replenishing the soil; shorter growing seasons because of heavy rain; and erosion problems.

Lehman noted:

— The past two years have been the wettest on record in Iowa, state officials report.

— In the year that ended in May 2019, Iowa’s farms received 50.73 inches of rain, 16 inches more than the average between 1981 and 2010.

— Floods have heavily damaged farmland in Iowa and Nebraska.

Lehman and IFU organizer Robert Mulqueen are holding meetings around the state to encourage farmers to plant cover crops that help hold soil, soak up water and sweep greenhouse gases — the ones that trap heat and push the thermometer up — from the air. They also are encouraging no-till or low-till practices because disturbing the soil releases those gases.

Lehman and Mulqueen also are asking farmers to write letters to the editor about the climate change issue. They are also encouraging them to call Congress to support clean energy production and research into better storage for renewable energy.

“For many years, there has been a message to farmers that climate change would mean more regulations or more expenses for farmers,” Lehman said. “That has, overall, hurt us in agriculture. Farmers have to be part of the solution, but we’ve taken a defensive position.”

Many farmers are planting cover crops and planting more than just corn and soybeans, but there is little incentive for others to do so, Lehman said. His organization is looking for ways to create incentives. “We feel the discussion happens well when farmers lead the discussion,” Lehman said.

That work has included meetings with most of Iowa’s congressional delegation, Lehman said.